Before the mother or son took their first bite, a drop of gravy fell from the son’s fork and dribbled down his shirt. The napkin on his lap was no help. The mother jumped up to get the son a wet rag.
The two-person house was still warm from the long shift of the working stove that allowed the meal in front of them: A golden-brown turkey, gravy, potatoes—mashed with lumps and red skin—cranberry sauce—sliced and arranged like the fallen dominoes—stuffing, cornbread and a softened stick of butter.
Over the next 35 minutes, they shared their usual conversation about cats, the Clintons and the mother’s gay friend who was the “sweetest, most gentle man she ever met.” She asked why his father couldn’t be that way.
“He’s a moron,” she said, rolling her eyes to the ceiling.
After the table was cleared, the dishes washed and their stomachs settled, the mother and her son went to a movie. This was strange for a Thursday. Friday is usually movie night but it was Thanksgiving so they made an exception.
Their routine resumed Sunday without fail: Chinese dinner at Fon Shan Chinese Restaurant and Lounge at the corner of North Congress Avenue and Hypoluxo Road in Boynton Beach, Florida.
The mother’s name is Marilyn: Marilyn Hamm until the divorce; Arlin after.
Marilyn keeps her house clean. Her leather couches are covered with a clear plastic cover that crunches like a hand digging in a potato chip bag. Her floors are spotless, cleaned two to three times a day by Marilyn’s heavy bare foot and a Windexed paper towel.
There was no trace of hair, fur or dander from any of her four pets, including Molly, the man-hating Bichon Frise.
Marilyn had three cats—Tabatha, Heidi, and Annie. These three cats, as well as a number of others who died through the years—Inky and Pinky, Baron, Snowball, Boo and Cotton—were saved from the streets.
She was good at giving things a home.
The boy, Jeffrey Hamm, parts his hair neatly to one side. He is a jean and t-shirt kind of boy. White socks and Reebok sneakers. He likes to sit in his room and play Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, a video game that tries to copy, or simulate, the experience of flying an aircraft. His best friend is his mom.
He is 44.
“He’s a loser,” said his younger brother, James Hamm, 40, an insurance broker in New York City. “What man in his 40’s still has his mom cook his dinner? He’s like a little boy.”
Jeffrey never had a girlfriend. His mother blamed the girls.
Jeffrey never kept a job. He blamed the boss.
Jeffrey is an alcoholic. He blames his father.
Jeffrey is addicted to drugs. It is the addiction.
“That is the way he [Jeffrey] thinks: Nothing is ever Jeffrey’s fault. It is always
everyone else’s. He takes no responsibility for himself. And I hate to say it, but Mom contributed to it. She did,” said James, ending the sentence as though there was more to contemplate than he prepared for.
Jeffrey lived with his mother all 44 years except for one, the year he served in the Navy in the Grenada War. “He was discharged for smoking pot,” said his older brother, Donald Hamm, 53, CEO of Insurant, an insurance company in Wisconsin.
After his leave, Jeffrey moved alone, to Florida. One month later, his mother followed.
“She was worried about his drug addiction,” said his older sister, Lorri Ruth, a stay at home mom on Long Island. “She couldn’t leave him alone.”
Since then, the only home he had was his mother’s. For 44 years he depended on her—for food, shelter, emotional support and financial support. Even his social life, excluding his weekly meetings with his friends at AA, depended on her.
“Mom always tried to help him,” said Ruth, crying into the phone. “She was his best friend. She kept him alive.”
As a social worker, Marilyn worked closely with patients that had addictions
similar to those of Jeffrey.
“She talked to him professionally, but mothering overpowered,” said Ruth.
Samuel Waldner, a leading alcoholism/addictions counselor in Toronto, Canada, said, “often the person with addiction needs to start feeling the pain from the consequences of their actions before he or she can start making changes.”
Marilyn never let her son hit rock bottom.
“Mom always took him in. She never gave him a reason to change,” said James. He always had a home to go to.
That is, until she died.
The story will continue next week on btrtoday.com